‘Ringer’ finale offers a fitting end to a disappointing season

I’ve said this to a number of people, so I might as well say it to you, Dear Readers:
I’ve watched every episode of The CW’s “Ringer,” but if I’d thought there was the slightest chance that the show could be renewed, I’d have quit watching months ago.
That sounds counter-intuitive and I know it doesn’t line up with conventional wisdom about serialized TV from fans who have been burned so frequently that they refuse to tune in to any show without some assurance that it will be moving forward, that questions will be answered and resolution reached.
Nope. I kept watching “Ringer” because I knew The CW would air every episode, but it simultaneously felt like there was little risk of a not-particularly-cheap drama drawing barely over a million viewers would get a second season. I figured that if I could read those signs, the “Ringer” showrunners could read those signs and that, facing the end of the line after 22 episodes, the writers could figure out the story they really wanted to tell, condense it and take viewers to a satisfactory conclusion.
The more fool me.
Tuesday (April 17) night’s “Ringer” finale, tamely titled “I’m the Good Twin,” played as a brazen and irritating plea for a second season from a show that has done nothing, in terms of either quality or ratings, to earn any kind of reprieve from The CW.
I can imagine the show’s fans — there are a couple dozen of them out there — getting stirred up to beg for another season, but that’s only because the finale accomplished almost none of the things it hypothetically could have accomplished. While it left many things unresolved, I’m not sure that the pending issues for an imaginary season two are all that interesting, but that’s all that fans were given.
More after the break…
“Ringer” was a show that never had a clue what it wanted to be for a single second of its 22-episode run. Yes, certain directors or actors might have had the right ideas, but they were perpetually being undermined by the storytelling.
Richard Shepard brought a visual style to the pilot — a pseudo-campy mixture of Hitchcock and DePalma, right down to the legendary cornball green screens — that was never repeated. Jason Dohring came and sneered his way through a subplot ripped so completely from “Wild Things” that everybody involved should be hiding in shame behind copyright lawyers, but his was an arc that could have been excised from the rest of the series without any gaps in continuity. Andrea Roth came in and chewed scenery with a welcome relentlessness, but hers was a character from a different, better series. The writers periodically decided that Ioan Gruffudd’s Andrew might be evil and every time he was asked to overplay “wicked,” everything became more compelling.
But there were too many black holes. Kristoffer Polaha, so likably flawed on “Life Unexpected,” was never given any sort of character and vanished into callow nothingness, there mostly to make what I thought was supposed to be a running joke about his unseen sons, until they finally popped up. Mike Colter’s Malcolm Ward looked like he was going to be really important, at least until the writers suddenly realized they had nothing to do with him and we ended the finale unsure if he was alive or dead and not caring. At a certain point, the writers just swapped Malcolm out for Sean Patrick Thomas’ Solomon and I bet there are hundreds of “Ringer” fans who are convinced Solomon and Malcolm are the same person. Zoey Deutch’s Juliet was just another in a long line of The Most Annoying Teenage Characters on TV (though she was totally usurped by Leo from “Smash”). Half-hearted efforts were put into making viewers care about characters played with consummate pretty blandness by Billy Miller and Justin Bruening, characters who were killed off when the writers threw up their hands in bored resignation. Whole episodes passed in which “Ringer” forgot that Nestor Carbonell was a cast regular and although he had one or two good moments when we saw how personal this case was for Agent Machado, it was still a waste of a talented actor.
Really, though, it pains me to say that the biggest non-writing culprit for the failings of “Ringer” has to be Sarah Michelle Gellar, who was also the only reason anybody watched in the first place.
Blind devotion to the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” star isn’t a crime. Sarah Michelle Gellar has earned your love and respect and she’s earned mine. That doesn’t change the consistently doubly awful performance she gave over 22 episodes. I will always place more blame on the writers than on Gellar for this, but Bridget and Siobhan never became two distinctive characters. Bridget came close. I sensed her weakness and her fundamental goodness. But Siobhan was one-dimensional from the pilot on, spending 20+ episodes as a cartoony bitch and then, as the finale approached, when I think the writers decided they wanted us to pity or tolerate Siobhan, it was way too late. [Minor credit to the welcome absurdity of voyeuristic labor in the penultimate episode.] Neither role accentuated any of Gellar’s strengths as an actress, particularly her sense of humor. I blame Gellar, but I also pity her. Getting to play two characters is a dream for an actress, but getting to play two flatly written, unengaging characters has to be a nightmare. She could have done so much better for her return to TV and TV could have done so much better by her.
And to make matters worse, the writers decided that one of the principle amusements of the premise — Seeing Gellar act opposite Gellar — wasn’t something they wanted any part of. We saw Bridget and Siobhan come face-to-face in flashbacks and in dreams, but after the pilot they were never together in the present which was, frankly, bizarrely disconnected from audience expectations/desires. This was the story of two sisters who shared the same face and every single fan tuning in to the show was waiting, at least to some degree, to see them fight over that face. Instead, the finale played coy and dodged the only near-meeting between the two and set up a hypothetical Bridget/Siobhan showdown for Season 2. That’s offensive, because it proves that the writers know it’s what viewers crave and yet even facing cancellation, they couldn’t be bothered to offer even a second of satisfaction.
If you’d given me the chance to place a wager on the end of the “Ringer” finale, I’d have bet every penny on the last scene or maybe the last shot being that grand moment of revelation with the sisters glaring at each other, with one or both pointing guns. It wouldn’t have been surprising, but it would have brought the first season of “Ringer” to its logical conclusion, while also leaving things up in the air for a second season if desperation sets in for The CW.
Nope. Instead, we ended with Siobhan saying she wants her life back. And with Bridget facing the idea that her sister is still alive, but wants her dead.
Almost everything revealed in the finale was information that viewers already knew, which just made the lumbering even more frustrating. Yes, we saw a few things that had only been discussed previously, but what did I gain from *seeing* Macawi kill Shaylene? I knew he did it. I knew Bridget saw. It added nothing.
Don’t get me wrong. After nearly 40 minutes of stagnation, a lot of stuff happened in the “Ringer” finale home stretch.
Excitement included:
*** Darren Pettie’s Jimmy Kemper returned, made some threats to Bridget and then was killed by Macawi. Whenever he wasn’t on-screen, I forgot that Kemper existed at all, so his death isn’t a big loss.
*** Gemma’s father Tim spilled the beans that Siobhan had been banging Henry. Presumably this was the only reason Gemma existed at all, right? Anyway, Andrew was unhappy, which prompted Bridget to finally confess. Andrew reacted like the skuzzy, sanctimonious sketchball that he is, expressing annoyance that he’d been duped into falling in love with a stranger, like he was such a huge prize. Then again, Bridget had been sleeping with her sister’s husband and keeping her hypothetical death a secret, so I’m not really sure how much forgiveness I think she deserved.
*** Speaking of people being sanctimonious, I saw several people on Twitter cheering for Henry finally telling Siobhan off after discovering that the twins — named Portia and Regan of inexplicable reasons of Shakespearean pretense not connected to Siobhan’s previously established character (or to the tone of the series) in any way — were not, in fact, his. Yes, Siobhan is awful and deserves to be mocked and told off by anybody and everybody. But why on Earth would I cheer for Henry? He’s an adulterous, lying tool. He may be better than Siobhan, but he’s not a lot better.
*** And after killing Kemper, Macawi showed up at Siobhan’s penthouse, because he was under the impression Bridget was pretending to be her, but not because he had any awareness that there were two of them. Well, coincidentally, that happened to be when Siobhan was showing up to plunder the household jewels. Macawi played slasher movie villain and nearly killed Siobhan and then was surprised by Bridget (as Siobhan departed). He was just about to kill Bridget when Agent Machado arrived via teleport from Colorado and distracted Macawi just long enough for Bridget to shoot and kill him. Well… OK.
*** And, like I said, Bridget learned that Siobhan was still alive. But rather than having Bridget learn though actual character agency, rather than having Bridget actively discover Siobhan’s existence though a process of her own devising, the writers decided to have Solomon come in and, apropos of nothing, show surveillance footage. So after 22 episodes, Bridget learned about Siobhan in a way that was entirely unearned dramatically and that, in fact, made her look like a total idiot for all of the circumstantial evidence that she ought to have been picking up on for weeks. What ought to have been a moment of discovery became a moment that exposed the weakness of a woefully written character. [Also exposing the same weakness: Bridget having to be forced into telling Andrew the truth because Gemma’s father backed her into the corner. If Bridget confesses to Andrew of her own volition, it’s a sign of character evolution, a sign of exactly the character evolution people in the finale kept talking about, without displaying.]
I don’t get where the stakes are next season. Siobhan has two babies and she wants her life back, but I fail to see what resources she has at her disposal, nor do I see her as a significant enough character to be a tangible threat. Bridget, meanwhile, has no obstacles standing in her way, Macawi-wise, so her goal is going to be to win back Andrew and Juliet? And, I guess, to find Siobhan? Which shouldn’t be so hard, what with little Cordelia and Ophelia tagging along? Whee.
I think I’m done, regardless. The deal I made to watch the show was predicated on The CW having the common sense to cut bait this May. That “Ringer” didn’t live up to its end of the deal by gracefully finessing the finale into a series finale isn’t my fault. Nor is it my fault that the finale chose to try to bring people back by denying satisfaction, rather than introducing new intrigue.
“Ringer” had a place on my Worst of 2011 list and it’s almost certainly to be back on my Worst of 2012 list. That can be it legacy.
And I’ll just root for Sarah Michelle Gellar to have more luck next time.